Letter to Sac City Board of Education about School Closures

The board of Slow Food Sacramento provided the following comment letter to the Sacramento City Board of Education this week. We are urging them to consider the value of school garden assets, particularly at Fruit Ridge Elementary, as they evaluate several campuses for closure.

January 29, 2013

Hon. Jonathan Raymond, Superintendent &
Hon. President and Members of the Sacramento City Board of Education
Sacramento City Unified School District
5735 47th Avenue Sacramento, CA  95824

Re: Proposed closure of Fruit Ridge Elementary School / Garden

Dear Superintendent Raymond and Members of the Board of Education,

We, the members of Sacramento Slow Food’s Board of Directors, respectfully request that the Board reconsider its proposal to close the historic Fruit Ridge Elementary School and move the students to schools on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Slow Food is an international nonprofit that advocates for good, clean, fair food for all. The Sacramento Chapter’s emphasis is on promoting urban agriculture including school gardens. Our fourth annual Urban Ag Fest in 2012 raised funds for our school garden coalition and for the garden projects at Rosemont High School and O.W. Erlewine Elementary School. Our guests, including teachers, students and volunteers from 15 SCUSD schools showcased their school garden projects, toured the Rosemont Garden and its Culinary Arts and Masonry Arts Programs, and enjoyed a sit-down dinner on the senior lawn. Our speaker was former State Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin, under whose leadership California’s school gardens grew from some 40 to more than 3,000.

Later in the year we welcomed Alice Waters and the Edible Schoolyard Project to Sacramento and to St. Hope Leadership Academy Charter School. And now Sacramento has declared itself America’s Farm to Fork Capital. Slow Food Sacramento is participating in the development of that project, specifically encouraging emphasis on access: Whose Forks? We think the moniker is meaningless, if Sacramento is not improving the access of school children to good, clean, fair food. In that vein, we applaud efforts by SCUSD to change its approach to food procurement and we have partnered with the Food Literacy Project, which teaches food literacy in elementary schools in Oak Park.

In this context, we ask that you please reconsider whether closing Fruit Ridge Elementary School and shutting down its garden and orchard is the right decision or whether this move would be inconsistent with the district’s and community’s support for the health and learning benefits of school gardens:

• Fruit Ridge Elementary participated in our Urban Ag Fest school garden showcase and, through the generosity of several prominent businesses and individuals we were able to host their delegates at the shared meal. The school is a member of our School Garden Coalition. Its staff have been trained at the Edible Schoolyard Institute in Berkeley.

• This fall our Fresh Food Access Fund, a fund hosted by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, awarded $1,000 grant to Fruit Ridge Elementary School to support their Garden and Living Laboratory.

• Fruit Ridge Elementary’s garden, established in 2002, is a standout. We know of no other garden that can match the oasis of tranquility and activity that it represents. If you have not visited, please do so, before you make your final decision. Name a place at any school that you would rather be, if you were an elementary school child. You won’t find one.

• Fruit Ridge Elementary is the only pesticide free school campus in the district. This represents an investment of hundreds of hours of volunteer time and a huge public health benefit.

• Fruit Ridge’s garden is huge: one-quarter acre including 35 fruit trees.  The orchard is a ten year investment by Common Vision’s Fruit Tree Tour: http://commonvision.org/programs/fruittreetour/ Common Vision’s school orchard program has impacted 80,000 students at over 180 low income schools and community centers. In Sacramento that school is Fruit Ridge Elementary.

• Fruit Ridge Elementary’s garden represents ten years of investment in time, money, and resources by volunteers, nonprofit associations, local businesses, students, teachers, and staff. No such investment has been made at the alternative school sites to which these children would be moved.

• Fruit Ridge is in a residential neighborhood, near the County’s Emergency Housing, and away from the area’s busy thoroughfares. The neighbors are homes, not convenience stores and speeding traffic. The environment represents a place where a garden and students can thrive in safety.

•  The California School Boards Association selected Fruit Ridge’s garden to be profiled in the Summer 2008 newsletter http://www.csba.org/NewsAndMedia/Publications/CASchoolsMagazine/2008/Summer/InThisIssue/Gardens.aspx

The article posits:

“Slowly but surely, despite changes in academic priorities, accountability systems and fiscal uncertainties, school gardens and related agriculture programs are taking root at rural, urban and suburban schools across the country.”

Using Fruit Ridge Elementary School’s garden as its shining example, the article describes these gardens as:

“a crucial component of a broader and expanding national collection of public and private initiatives to improve students’ nutrition, physical fitness, overall health, and of course, their academic success.”

Thank you for your consideration of Slow Food Sacramento’s views, as the Board undertakes its difficult decision-making process. We request that school garden assets, representing substantial investments of public and private funding and volunteer effort be included in the Board’s analysis of any site’s strengths. Thus, for example, Bret Harte Elementary School‘s garden was one of three pilot edible schoolyards for which the school district financed installation of hard- and soft-scape. The District’s Green Fellow and Project Green Program will be aware of additional substantial public and private investments in sustainability including, for example, the substantial June 2012 Project Green Award to Washington Elementary School.

If we can provide additional information or help arrange a tour, please do not hesitate to contact Charity Kenyon charity@slowfoodsacramento.com or Brenda Ruiz brenda@slowfoodsacramento.com

Very truly yours,

Coral Henning, President

Slow Food Sacramento

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